POSTSCRIPT added May 28 at 6:55 p.m.: Since this commentary was submitted May 26, the governor’s administration announced a slight but important change. Individuals eligible for motel vouchers under the existing GA Housing program will be allowed to apply again before the June 30 eviction date — which could potentially grant them 28 additional days of motel housing. This includes families with children under age 18 (an increase from the usual age limit of 6 years old), pregnant persons in the third trimester of pregnancy, people over age 65, and individuals receiving Social Security and disability insurance. 

This policy modification is a welcome one, but it does not go far enough. It is also tacit acknowledgement on the administration’s part that the abrupt end to the pandemic-era motel voucher program without proper planning was — and is — inadequate. We continue to call for a humane transition period that takes into account the time and resources needed to find safe and compassionate shelter for all. 

This commentary is a joint effort by 19 House representatives and four state senators. The full list is at the bottom of the text.

We are state representatives and senators in the Vermont General Assembly, Democrats and Progressives, united in wanting a careful, compassionate and gradual transition from the pandemic-era motel housing program to housing plans for all. 

We’re hoping to raise public awareness of the impending crisis and encourage all Vermonters to work with us to change the course of events. 

Seventeen of us in the House, and one in the Senate, voted no on the state budget because it did not include funding for a more gradual end to the motel housing program. Others voted to support the budget but remain deeply concerned about the fate of nearly 2,800 Vermonters who will be exited into communities around Vermont on May 31 and June 30. 

None of us want people sent into the woods, onto the streets, and into their cars by an abrupt end to the expanded general assistance motel housing program. 

We’ve heard from housing organization leaders, from directors of emergency housing programs, and from hundreds of individuals living in motels and hotels throughout Vermont. They all agree that ending this program without a clear transition plan will be devastating for individuals moving out of shelter and into uncertainty. 

It will be devastating for our communities and emergency services who will be overwhelmed by vulnerable people — including more than 500 children, folks with disabilities who need oxygen, individuals who need electricity to charge breathing machines and wheelchairs, people living with serious mental health challenges. All are scheduled to be exited and most do not know where they will go. This is unacceptable. 

Ending the emergency housing program with evictions on May 31 and June 30 will have devastating impacts both for impacted individuals and the communities they will exit to. There is not enough time to prepare appropriate transition plans for the number of households within the next one to five weeks.. 

Rick DeAngelis, director of Good Samaritan Haven (which operates multiple emergency shelter sites in Barre and Berlin and provides supportive services to guests at the Hilltop Inn), has said that it’s looking like the best he can do at this point is to “help them secure tents and sleeping bags” as they leave the motels. 

Even with tents, where will people go? There is no state lands camping policy, which would provide clarity as to whether or not folks can settle temporarily on state lands. Most municipalities are unprepared to support an influx of unhoused Vermonters living in tents on sidewalks. 

It’s estimated that actual housing placements can be found for about 100 to 200 people per month statewide, but we need more time to equip our communities with resources and increase awareness of programs and organizations that can help. For their protection, and in consideration of vital social services providers, we cannot turn our most vulnerable residents out onto the street without supportive plans and options. 

Appropriate transition plans could prevent crises for individuals, for families, and for our communities. We need the Agency of Human Services to approve extensions for vulnerable individuals who do not have transition plans. Some hotel owners have already agreed to accept reduced rates if extensions are granted, and a large-scale renegotiation of rates should be considered. A compassionate transition plan is possible and essential for the stability of Vermont’s communities. 

Please contact Gov. Scott at his office, 802-828-3333. You can also call and leave messages for House Speaker Jill Krowinski and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Baruth at 802-828-2228.

Let them know that the rapid unhousing of people without a transition plan is not what we want for Vermonters. Tell them that you view housing as a foundational pillar of public safety. Remind them that housing is health care. Housing is mental health care. Housing will support substance abuse stability. Housing is abuse prevention. 

Housing is a human right. And Vermont can do better. 

Rep. Michelle Bos-Lun, Westminster 
Rep. Joe Andriano, Orwell 
Rep. Angela Arsenault, Williston 
Rep. Mollie Burke, Brattleboro 
Rep. Melanie Carpenter, Hyde Park 
Rep. Conor Casey, Montpelier 
Rep. Ela Chapin, East Montpelier 
Rep. Brian Cina, Burlington 
Rep. Mari Cordes, Lincoln 
Rep. Caleb Elder, Starksboro 
Rep. Edye Graning, Jericho 
Rep. Troy Headrick, Burlington 
Rep. Saudia LaMont, Morristown 
Rep. Kate Logan, Burlington 
Rep. Kate McCann, Montpelier 
Rep. Jubilee McGill, Bridport 
Rep. Emma Mulvaney Stanak, Burlington 
Rep. Taylor Small, Winooski 
Rep. Heather Suprenant, Barnard 
Sen. Martine Larocque Gulick, Burlington 
Sen. Nader Hashim, Dummerston 
Sen. Tanya Vyhovsky, Essex 
Sen. Irene Wrenner, Essex

Pieces contributed by readers and newsmakers. VTDigger strives to publish a variety of views from a broad range of Vermonters.